Last night I read at a Lit Crawl in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District Association. With so many of the writers hailing from local media like the Tampa Bay Times and Creative Loafing, there was no small amount of Florida-related stories. For longtime followers of this blog, this may not be new information, as I drew heavily from both my blog and my reporting at the Gabber Newspaper. Here’s what I read, and yes, it is about ducks. #BecauseGulfport, right?
This weekend marks the one year anniversary of perhaps the best headline I ever had the privilege of writing.
The Gabber Newspaper, for those of you who don’t exist within the realm of the small-town nirvana that is Gulfport, is the weekly paper that serves the roughly 12,527 people who live in town. That paper was my home for almost 13 years, and even though I don’t write for them anymore, I still live in Gulfport. I love my town; nevertheless, Gulfportians – and that’s what they call themselves, Gulfportians – Gulfportians seem to have this “live every day like it’s a full moon” mentality.
Now don’t worry, I’m not going to hit you with Weird Florida” stories. I’m not going to tell you how weird or wacky or oddball we are in the Sunshine State. I’m going to tell you about news stories I had the, uh, opportunity to cover in Gulfport. And we aren’t so much weird as we are – well, we’re a small town. I believe these sorts of things happen in larger towns, too, but there’s more room to ignore them. Here, we all just sort of bump into each other over and over again, and so it seems like we have more unusual things than, say, Baltimore.
Because the Gabber is a small paper, I had the wonderful task (and ethical dilemma) of covering news and penning an opinion column called Hard Candy. What Gulfportians now call either “Duckopalypse” or “WaterFowlGate” started with a Hard Candy column I wrote called “The Duck Snatcher”. In it, I wrote about the Pekin ducks and a cute duckling that had taken up residence at the pond by my house. The ducks had disappeared and locals were murmuring that someone had stolen them.
Cute, right? I mean, the alleged duck snatching aside, ducklings make for a warm and fuzzy topic.
That’s what I thought, until I found myself writing a headline Hefty Bill For Duck Theft not soon after.
Seriously. Bigger papers – papers with budgets for things like more than one editor and newsrooms with doors and things like that – bigger papers make the copy editors write the headlines. I wrote my own headlines, and I’ll be honest with you, it was fun. Sometimes I’d come up with them on my own; other times, I’d post a one-sentence synopsis of the story on Facebook and let my Facebook friends decide. I wish I could claim this one as mine, but it was someone on Facebook who suggested it.
So, OK, I had written the column and thought to myself, well, that’s a damn shame about the ducks but we’ll never know what happened. But then my phone rang and it was our chief of police, Rob Vincent.
“Hey, uh, I just want to let you know, we caught a duck-napper last night” he says.
I remember this so clearly: It was a Friday afternoon and I was looking forward to the end of the workday. I was standing in the kitchen and I just stopped and said, “Are you fucking with me?”
He was not fucking with me. One of the other cops told me later, “I read your Hard Candy and thought, ‘these people are high.’ And then Parks” – that’s another officer – “catches somebody stealing ducks the next night.”
So I write the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft story and the Chief Vincent contacts me again, but not because they’ve caught more duck-nappers but because he wants to let me know technically, it wasn’t duck theft because – and I quote – “that would imply the ducks belong to somebody.
I realize that sounds all “born free” and very drum circle-esque for a police officer, but remember that in Gulfport, we’re now into week three of Duckapolypse and the duck nappers – excuse me, at this point they’re alleged duck nappers – are threatening to sue, and everyone’s a little uptight about the charges against them.
Oh, yeah, didn’t I mention that? 13 years with that local paper and the only time I ever wrote anything that made someone get a lawyer and threaten to sue was the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft article. They ultimately dropped the case, but for a while there I was pretty sure I was going to have to testify in court about ducks. And duck thefts.
WaterfowlGate – and trust me, this is one of many stories I loved writing – only got weirder from there. One time and one time only in my career have I promised to protect the identity of a source from the police. A source who feared legal prosecution because he –or she– previously harbored ducks and knows the locations of other ducks currently in what I can only call “protective custody.”
See, in Gulfport, it’s illegal to keep ducks in captivity, and this person was part of an underground duck network.
Ah, but first? The headline: Gulfport’s Duck Underground Fears Prosecution
Here’s my lede:
“Apparently in response to recent press about duck activity at Gulfport’s Tomlinson Park, local duck sympathizers, fearing legal repercussions, have returned a raft of Pekin ducks to the pond.”
That’s what you call a group of ducks, by the way – a raft.
This duck sympathizer was one of three “safe houses” – you know what? I’m just going to quote the article:
“This duck sympathizer is one of at least three home who provide assistance, nourishment and shelter to orphaned, injured or malnourished Pekin ducks.
“The duck sympathizer tells the Gabber that the unorganized underground network of duck rescuers takes in orphaned ducks … This unofficial group of duck guardians keeps the ducks safe and well fed until such time as the ducks can survive on their own at the pond.”
“One duck rescuer says that the two ducks that disappeared the first week of June are still missing from the raft, and the Gabber could not match photos of the missing ducks with any current ducks in Tomlinson Park. The fate of these two ducks remains unknown. The Gabber’s duck source says they do not believe the people accused of duck snatching (who could not be reached for comment) have a history of duck rescuing.
“The rescuers have released the majority of the ducks back into the pond, the duck sympathizer says, because in light of recent coverage in the Gabber, they feared the city would charge them with illegally keeping ducks.
“Whereas Gulfport changed its laws a few years ago to allow for chicken ownership, it does not allow for duck husbandry.”
In about 15 years, there’s going to be a young lady in therapy because her mom had to release the ducks because of me.
That was, I thought, pretty much the end of WaterFowlGate, but some time later, I was in the Horse & Jockey, which is actually not a Gulfport bar – and I’m talking to a friend, and I make an offhanded joke about Gulfport’s sewers being on the brink of collapse but as long as there weren’t ducks trapped in them, no one cared. Half-joking, she responds that Gulfportians don’t notice city issues that aren’t duck-related.
I start to laugh, but mid-chortle, a woman I’d never met before approached our table and interrupted with, “You’re talking about ducks. You must be with the Gabber.”
We spent the next seven minutes discussing duck-related issues. I finally asked her about the sewers and how she felt about their current state of disrepair, and she developed a pressing need to be elsewhere.
It’s not all bad, though. I love my town, even if I don’t write for the small-town paper anymore. A local restaurant put duck breast on the specials menu in my honor, and when a goat was kidnapped – you like what I did there – a year later, there was no question who was covering the story.
That headline, by the way, was So This Goat Walks Into a Bar, but that’s another story for another lit crawl.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
– J.R.R. Tolkein
This column makes me sad, because it is my last. 12 years ago, the Gabber offered me a job and a place in the community. Over the years I have delighted you, angered you, and most of all, I hope, I have made you think.
And today my time with the Gabber ends.
I didn’t come to the paper as a print journalist. My training was broadcast journalism; my previous vocation, public relations. But print media – specifically, writing for you, through the Gabber, became my passion. I love you people, even when you make me crazy with your kid-napped goats and your duck thefts and your infinite number of other things that feel as if this whole town has been plucked from the pages of a Carl Hiaasen novel. You’ve watched me grow, you’ve stayed right alongside me, and, most significantly, you’ve given me a home.
And now it’s time for me to go. This is my final week at the Gabber, and even though I know it is the right decision, my heart feels as though it’s breaking.
This decision has come later than it should have, although I don’t think I would ever have felt ready for it. I feel the support of everyone at the paper in this decision. We discussed my parting, and I harbor no ill will.
My life has changed, my circumstances have changed, and my path has changed. I have one book on the way and am preparing for another. I speak about my travels through Florida regularly, and I now teach photography classes. These other things are interfering with my ability to do my job well; I have meetings I cannot attend, I have places I cannot be, and you, our readers, deserve someone who is 100% with the paper, not someone who always appears to have one foot out the door.
And so I move over to make room for the next Cathy Salustri, the next person at the Gabber who can take us in yet another direction. I don’t know who that person will be. The paper needs new blood. Now that I re-read that, I realize it is, after today, no longer my place to refer to the Gabber as “us” –they are no longer my family, except, perhaps, in my heart.
You, my friends, are still my family, although I think you will find me far less useful to you than you may have in the past. That’s OK; I am happy being me, just me, with no press credentials after my name. My home and, most importantly, my heart remains in Gulfport.
I have not made this decision easily. My heart is breaking, but for some time now the paper has been my security blanket, the home in which I nestled into and wrapped around myself. It was wonderful, warm and cozy, but it also kept me from, as Bilbo says, from stepping out onto the road. I held the Gabber up as an excuse, a reason I couldn’t be more or do more. It’s time for me to prove to myself I can. I’ve given myself a year to do just that, and, well, if I can’t churn something out in a year and make a go of it, I hope Pia’s or PJ’s or O’Maddy’s can find a spot for me behind the bar (I do, incidentally, make the best margarita I’ve ever tasted) next January. I don’t know what will happen, but I do know this: If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there, not in my cozy hobbit hole.
I will be forever grateful to Ken and Deb Reichart for being so good to me in the past, but my time at the Gabber is done. It is time for me to open the door, blink in the sunlight, and take that first step.
“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
– Bilbo Baggins
And so, my faithful friends, until we meet again.
Hello, abyss, old friend. It’s me again, at your edge. I’m ready to jump in again.
I probably should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. I have a tendency to get too inside the mirror. Which is funny, in the way people say funny when something isn’t funny at all: I was so introspective I didn’t see what was happening in my own life, and it was clearly going to happen whether I wanted it to or not.
I’m a big believer – huge, actually – in “we do what we want” so I can’t change philosophies midstream now and say I didn’t want this. I am certain I could have avoided this, of course, but I just didn’t want to avoid it enough. Apparently.
And so, for the first time in almost 12 years, as the Gabber staff plugs away at a deadline for Thursday’s paper, I am not a part of it. Oh, I’ve submitted a final Hard Candy, which you can all read tomorrow, and they have a few nondescript things of mine to run over the next month (not the sort of thing one includes in their portfolio, but the sort of thing that keeps the machine part of the newspaper going) , but for all intents and purposes, I no longer write for the Gabber.
The wherefores and whys really, really don’t matter. It became clear to me my time there was at a stopping point. I would never have been able to separate on my own; I needed a push. I didn’t see it coming, I really and truly didn’t, but when I started talking to El Cap about “what next” this past weekend I of course went through the whole postmortem, I realized yes, this has been coming for a while and of course I didn’t see it because I couldn’t.
It doesn’t matter. I will be forever grateful for how the Gabber changed my life. Over the years, too, the Reichart family was exceptionally good to me. I am the writer I am, in part, because they allowed me to be that writer.
Endings, however, often suck. (Yes, that’s the best word right there, unless I want to describe it as “eating a suck burrito” which is a phrase I’m
stealing borrowing from these guys.)
This is one of those times.
I’ve spent the past days surrounded by friends who have buoyed my spirits and told me only good things. I needed that and am lucky to have those sorts of friends, the ones who support you without question and encourage you and tell you, yes, buttercup, you’re going to be OK.
At El Cap’s encouragement, I will take the rest of this year and finish three books I’ve started and mostly finished. He suggested the parting was perhaps a gift and the thing that was breaking my heart so hard was also the thing that would propel me to a new chapter of my life. He told me to freelance, yes, because, well, bills, but please focus on publishing something larger (I’m paraphrasing) than a city council report (Although, as much as I bitch about those meetings, I enjoy government reporting. It’s an illness.) He wants to see me write what I love, not what I need to write, to see me find something to stretch against the walls of my talents in new ways.
And I want that, too, actually. The idea of taking a year (OK, 11 months and 17 days, give or take) to work within my own little fictional world, pitch my second print book to a conventional press, and maybe even start trying to get feature work with magazines? That sounds incredibly, awfully, amazingly appealing. Most people don’t get that chance, and, without El Cap’s support, I wouldn’t either.
The last time I left a job, I did not have a plan except “write” – and I learned wishes work best with a touch of specificity mixed in to them. Last time wasn’t bad, not by a long shot. I found more than I ever imagined by simply following the direction “write.” This time, I have that specificity, but not too much, I hope, that I’ll miss something good. And, the same as last time, the grand plan includes sucking breath in and pushing it out again, and, if all else fails, I’ll just keep swimming.
To be continued…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but perhaps not for all the reasons you might think. While the rest of the world dreams of tropical vacations as they shovel snow, Floridians know a winter Florida seascape has staggering beauty unparalleled by (although breathtaking in its own right) northern snow-covered vale.
One of the finest venues for watching our winter skies slowly turn from a bright white-and-blue watercolor into a streaked pink and orange and purple symphony is Fort DeSoto, the county park at the southwestern edge of Pinellas county.
WHO:Pinellas County runs Fort DeSoto, with a spot of help from the Friends of Fort DeSoto.
Visit the park anytime between sunrise and sunset, although the sky grows gradually more beautiful as sunset gets closer. From about 3:30 p.m. on is optimal sky viewing time in the winter months. Remember, too, most of the park closes shortly after sundown, so you’ll want to park by one of the two fishing piers if you plan to stay much past sunset.
WHAT: Sunsets in winter seem to take longer. Although technically a sunset takes roughly seven minutes, winter twilight lasts longer than summer twilight. But don’t go for the sunset alone: the seaside has a beauty unparalleled in winter. December 21 marks the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and since ancient times cultures have celebrated the signs of rebirth that come with longer days following the Solstice. To find signs of new life, head for the trails along the East Beach or Arrowhead Picnic Area. The beach daisies popping up, the new shoots of growth on the trees, the blossoms you do not see in summertime beachscapes – these are all signs of a new growth cycle.
WHERE: Anywhere you have a clear view of the water makes for excellent sunset viewing of course, but Fort DeSoto remains the crown jewel of Pinellas beaches. People flock to the north beach and the fort itself for sunset, but the overlooked East Beach showcases a brilliant display of twilight colors this time of year. The Arrowhead Picnic Area makes for a great place to explore the winter foliage, although its water views face east. Finally, the Paw Playground, fishing piers, and surrounding beaches remain open after rangers close the gates to the east and north beaches.
WHY: Christmas coincides with winter solstice because celebrations already existed and it was easier to convert pagans if they could switch one holiday for another. Those pagan celebrations happened for a reason, and if you step outside and look around, you will understand on a primitive level why, even before we grasped the formal concepts of cell division and germination, we celebrate new beginnings in the world around us this time of year.
Question: Five dollars for Fort DeSoto; parking fees vary elsewhere along Pinellas beaches.
Last week I alluded to my mom perhaps making me a touch OCD in regards to the holidays and cleaning, namely in telling me Santa’s elves checked inside my dresser drawers to make sure I hadn’t simply stuffed things inside to give the appearance of clean. This is how I ended up taking a stroll down Gabber-memory lane this past week.
See, my mom’s lecture about elves has stayed with me in two ways: One, every holiday I have a 1972 Elf on the Shelf (I call him EOTS, pronounced E-Otis) who comes out in December to wreak havoc on things (some say it’s projecting; I prefer to call it “creating non-compulsive elf-related experiences”); and two, I have a list of things I must do before the new year. These things are cleaning-related, but not in the “clean the toilets and wash the floors” sense of the word. No, my holiday cleaning goes a little deeper, and this year it includes reorganizing my office (a/k/a the “Bat Cave”) closet.
So starting the day after Christmas, I dug into that closet, pulling out old papers, organizing a yarn stash, trying to make sense of a plenitude of cords and cables, and marveling at the crap I’d chosen to save instead of toss. Then I found a clear blue box that I assumed had warranties in it (because I’d stacked new ones on top of it throughout the year with the intention of filing them “when I had the chance”). When I opened it, though, I found old reporter notebooks and notes from different articles over the years.
I sighed when I read a folder of notes about 49th Street, one page of which contained a great quote about 49th Street being the “mother-in-law at a bachelor party.” I also found a bunch of promises St. Petersburg’s former police chief and a bunch of “great day in St. Petersburg” propaganda from former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. Then I found the Uniform Crime Reports for St. Petersburg, broken down by census district, which made me thankful that both men are long gone.
The next folder in the blue bin had notes about Gulfport’s mooring field. These notes are so old the paper had yellowed – that’s how long we’ve been talking about sinking moorings in Gulfport. I didn’t bother even keeping those, because I have more faith that St. Petersburg’s current mayor will do something positive for the poorest (and historically black) sections of town than I do that Gulfport City Council will ever create a mooring field.
I found, too, my notes on the one instance in time where a Gulfport police officer acted inappropriately and helped ruin one young man’s life in a desperate attempt to win some stupid custody battle. This happened before my tenure at the paper, and the man is long gone from our force (and hopefully any force), as is the police chief who opted not to launch an internal affairs investigation on the officer. I kept those notes, anyway – not because I plan to write about that incident any more for the Gabber, but because I believe the young man in question may have a bigger story to tell and one day I’d like to help him tell it.
Not everything stays, though. I tossed the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club lawsuit information from 2004, as well as the mayoral election paperwork for Mike Yakes, Clark Scherer and Marlene Shaw. I hesitated only slightly before doing the same thing with the Ward Two race between Christine Brown, Michele King and Courtland Yarborough.
By the time I looked into an empty blue box, I had a blueprint for 2015 in somewhat tidy piles on the floor before me. The sagas of Midtown, Childs Park and 49th Street continue, as does Gulfport’s waterfront and our (thankfully) weakening belief that we don’t really need the waterfront to make us a vibrant town. Everything I kept – and I didn’t mention everything here – I kept because they are unfinished stories.
Mayor Sam Henderson recently suggested the lack of an election in Gulfport meant people were pleased with the job council was doing. While the lack of an election does indicate people aren’t unhappy – or, at a minimum, aren’t displeased enough to take action – that doesn’t mean we don’t have issues we aren’t addressing. We’ve stopped talking about the tough issues, like 49th Street or the water quality in Boca Ciega Bay, because the answers aren’t apparent and they aren’t problems we can easily solve – if we can solve them at all. So we shove them into that big blue box in the back of the closet, along with the old cameras and our grandmother’s clock, and we close the door. So when people come into the room, they think, “Hey, this place looks great.” And it does, as long as we don’t open the closet door.
But maybe it’s time we played elf.
Hard Candy is an opinion column written by veteran reporter Cathy Salustri. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Gabber publishers, staff or advertisers. Contact Cathy here.
In theory, the lack of an election means no one is going to complain about Gulfport’s Ward Four or Ward Two for the next two years.
Well, it’s a nice theory.
I’m specifically speaking about Ward Four, because I live there, yes, but also because I hear the most complaining about how things happen over here. Largely, we get ignored, and it’s a rare election where anyone even runs against the incumbent.
Ward One has the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club, Town Shores, and about three other houses that barely need the city, save at tax time. Ward Two has parties and a marina that’s about to get the upgrade of a lifetime (and not a moment too soon). Ward Three has Stetson, some fine examples of Mediterranean architecture, and an, at times, somewhat indifferent attitude that leads some people to refer to the homes there as “Pasadena Light.”
Ward Four has a park that you can’t use unless you play Little League, a skate park that doesn’t really meet anyone’s needs, and a dependent relationship with St. Petersburg that the Gulfport Neighbors seem to care more about than the people we put in office to foster such relationships.
I can hear the mayor now, asking me what more he can do. And I will tell him to keep on keeping on – go get us money from the state and keep running the meetings like a boss. I’m happy with that. Just because he lives in Ward Four doesn’t mean he has to focus all his energy here.
I’m not even talking about our elected representative, the man who has now walked into office twice with no opposition from anyone. I’m talking to the residents of Ward Four. I’m talking to those of you who I hear say he’s not doing his job, because although he does try and advocate for our ward, his efforts often prove ineffective as no one apparently takes him seriously. You tell me you’re unhappy with the state of the skate park, with the homes in disrepair, with the way the city does this or that. I hear many of you, on the regular, complain about our elected representative. So where the hell were you two weeks ago when you had a chance to make a difference? Because honestly, the person who’s doing the most for our ward is the person who has started a conversation with the Childs Park Neighborhood Association, and she doesn’t even live in our ward. She’s a ward three resident.
Why the pervasive apathy? None of us seem apathetic when we talk on the street, but when the rubber meets the road, where are you?
Look, I knew when I moved to Ward Four we were the red-headed stepchild, and don’t misunderstand: I love a lot of things about living over here. I love that I don’t need flood insurance, that I don’t have to deal with street parties every week, and that because I moved across the street I bought more house for less money per square foot than I would have in wards one or two. I don’t love that we have this ward-wide indifference, that three council people back we couldn’t even summon enough caring to name our ward. Other neighborhoods get called “Stetson” or “Arts” or “Marina” while we don’t care enough to call ourselves anything but Ward Four, which makes us sound like a prison block. Don’t get me started on why that may or may not be appropriate.
This, of course, doesn’t stop people from complaining. Fine. I get that. Complain away. But be part of the solution. You don’t have to run for city council – there are other ways to get involved. It makes no sense to me that a voting district that includes the homes of the mayor, at least one Gulfport police officer, several working artists, three members of the historical society, the proprietor of one of our most successful restaurants, a local pain-in-the-ass columnist, and whoever else I’m forgetting who has the power to effect change beyond their property line should also allow their neighborhood to resemble one of the least-cared-for corners of the city.
And so I have a challenge for Ward Four: Do something. Act like you care about our neighborhood. Start showing up for things. Call the city when you see something you don’t like. 727-893-1010 gets you to the city manager, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Report code violations at 727-893-1061. If you don’t give your name and ask, you can remain anonymous. Don’t bother with the elected official; decisions get made and change happens at the staff level in a city manager form of government. Every first and third Monday, go online and peruse the agenda for the council meeting, and if you don’t understand what’s happening, call the city clerk at 727-893-1012 and ask. If there’s something you need, or something you don’t like, attend the meeting and speak your piece when Mayor Sam asks if anyone has any public comment.
We are fortunate to have a mayor who listens and a city staff that responds to what the residents want and need. You have a voice in our city, and by not using it, you’re getting exactly what you deserve.
Ward Four, we deserve better.
“General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
– Hugh Grant, “Love, Actually”
Christmas, in my world, starts about a week before Thanksgiving at the latest. If I can get away with it, it starts November 2. I can never, I should note, get away with that. And part of celebrating Christmas, to me, is celebrating Thanksgiving. I suspect that’s because I tend towards the misanthropic, so the idea of gratitude makes for a nice respite.
So, without further preamble, here’s my list of things for which I am grateful.
My old friend, Frank. Eleven years ago I was not in the holiday spirit. I was, in fact, downright Grinchy. Frank suggested we go see Love, Actually, which was unusual because he was forever dragging me to dramas that sounded good until I sat down in a dark theatre. I slept through a lot of fine cinema in Frank’s company. This time, though, he must have sensed I could use a boost. I left that movie feeling as good as I felt as a kid opening presents at my parents’ house. It, along with Home for the Holidays, The Ref, and Holiday Inn, are among my favorite holiday movies.
New sewers. Wow, that’s a 180 in gratitude, I know, but I need to do this, because I’ve harassed Gulfport’s Public Works Director Don Sopak in print and in person about this so much I’m amazed he hasn’t filed a restraining order. Last week, the city started evaluating the sewers to determine the extent of repair needed, and while I called Don to complain about the gurgling noise the testing made my toilets make, I neglected to mention how happy I was we were doing this.
Liberals like Mayor Sam Henderson and Yolanda Roman, and any liberal, anywhere, in office. This election scared me, both in the lack of turnout and the results. As I drove through Georgia last week I realized how strongly the Tea Party has divided this country and fostered hate. Stay strong, please, and also, local guys, thanks for keeping your partisan politics out of our local politics.
Vice Mayor Christine Brown, who has been an endless source of surprises. She’s been able to put partisan politics aside for the good of Gulfport, and you would never know she was a Republican by watching her in meetings. I actually suspect she may not be, but I don’t want to be the one to tell her that.
Ward One Councilman Dan Liedtke. I have to sigh when I say this. He’s so incredibly conservative, I want to dislike him, but I can’t, because he’s our token conservative. He makes my brain hurt when he gets started on any sort of conservative rant, but he also makes me think. On a local level, he’s the one who gets aggressive about saving the city money, and while I don’t always agree with how he wants to do it, I appreciate that someone’s paying attention.
Lesley DeMuth and Jim O’Reilly. Lesley is Gulfport’s city clerk and Jim is our city manager, and I couldn’t report on city business without the level of cooperation they give me. Let me be clear: I’m not friends with these people, and at times our jobs are at odds. Even then, when it would be easy for them to mire me in bureaucracy when I make a request, they don’t. Gulfport is lucky to have them both, and I am lucky to have a job that allows me to deal with city staff that doesn’t see the media as the enemy.
Every one of our police officers and firefighters. I have no way to thank you eloquently for what you’re willing to risk to keep everyone else safe, so please just know that you all have my gratitude.
My editor, Shelly Wilson. She came on board this year after a several-year absence from the Gabber, and I hate her. Oh, not all the time, just mostly on Wednesdays and Tuesdays, of course, where she’s hassling me about doing my job properly. If you’ve seen any changes in the paper lately, that’s her hand at work. We’re making some changes to make the paper better for you, and while bringing a new position into the mix has not been without minor pitfalls, just know that for every mistake you may see as we revamp our editorial process, she’s caught about seven we ordinarily wouldn’t. It’s been an absolute bitch for her to come up to speed, and I’m not certain she knows how much I appreciate having her around.
Our hound dog, Banyan. She could be a coonhound, according to the shelter she called home for far too long. I’d likely call her a goofhound, because this dog is the Jack Tripper of dogs. I am in love with this dog, and although Calypso may not be as thankful as I am for her, I believe she’ll come around and by this time next year they’ll be best buddies.
My mom and dad. They didn’t raise me perfectly, but from what I’ve seen, they definitely scored in the 98th percentile.
El Cap. He saves me every day from being the bitter, cranky old lady I can see in my head. He lets me be myself –which is to say, just crazy enough – without letting me be self-destructive. It’s a fine line. I am no picnic as a partner, rest assured. I’m not sure what he keeps going back to that keeps him from dropping rat poison in my coffee and dumping my body in Clam Bayou, but I’m lucky and forever grateful.
You guys. You read this column, and you write or call to tell me you love it or you hate it. This never ceases to amaze me, and I’m grateful every day that you keep reading and thinking. I love that you care enough to make this column a thing, and, more importantly, that you care enough to keep the Gabber a thing. Thank you.
We get all manner of phone calls at the Gabber office. Not just the “I have a news idea for you” or “I’d like to place an ad” calls, but the ones that most people might not expect. For example, a few years ago a duck with an injured wing found its way into the pond at Wood Ibis Park. We received daily phone calls asking us what we were going to do about it. We’ve also received calls inquiring about stray animals (sometimes they bring them in), doctor recommendations, high water bills… you name it, people ask us. And we don’t mind, because that’s part of being a community paper and not a big, faceless daily. You trust us, and we appreciate that, even if we really can’t tell you which doctor is best.
After 11 years of writing for this paper, my cell phone number is as common knowledge to some people as their own, and I get calls whenever the paper office isn’t open, which is to say Thursdays, nights and weekends.
Many times, people call to ask me, “What time do the Urban Gyspies play at Geckofest?” or “Hey, you ran an article about a guy making wood chains for Christmas trees; where can I find him?”
Other times, the calls aren’t as much fun.
Last weekend I received a Saturday morning call from a Marina District resident – let’s call her Frances, because she asked I not use her name –whose neighbors had died as part of an alleged murder/suicide. That wasn’t the point of the call, though. The point was this: Six days before, when the couple died, they had left a cat shut in a room and a dachshund running loose in the home.
Animal Services had taken the cat before the neighbors, stunned, could act. But when they saw the elderly dachshund tied to a mailbox, they didn’t wait for permission to take it. The dachshund, when I got the call, was in a “safe house”and could I either adopt it myself or find it a home, please?
We have just adopted a goofy hound dog who has some re-entry issues after too long in the pound and Calypso is recovering from a back injury. I told Frances I couldn’t take the dog but I would find a home.
This is why I love Gulfport. It took me all of five minutes to find someone who would take the dog indefinitely, but by the time I called to tell Frances, someone else had stepped up.
Olive Davis, thank you.
You may not know Olive or her partner, Tammy. I barely know Tammy and remember Olive from when she worked at Stella’s. They already have several dogs and didn’t think twice about saying, yes, we will take this dog and yes, if the next of kin wants the dog, we understand we have to let them keep her.
What Olive and Tammy did, it isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, a big deal. People adopt dogs every day, and every one of those dogs has a story. I’m living with one now, who flinches whenever you raise an arm over her eye level, who is so profoundly unsocialized she doesn’t know how to react to people, so walking her is traumatic. We get these calls all the time at the paper. Every abandoned animal has a story that will break your heart. This dog was no different.
But the voices in my head will do a number on me for a good long time, because this dog most likely saw a murder/suicide and then had to sit by her masters’sides for six days before someone helped her. She didn’t understand.
Which is why this whole space is just about thanking Olive and Tammy. Like I said, we get calls at the paper about stray animals all the time, and as much as everyone in our office loves animals (walk in some Friday when we have more dogs than people in the office and you’ll see what I mean), even we cannot save them all. We do what we can, but sometimes I start to feel like it will never be enough. Our hearts break every day with the calls we get.
So, on behalf of everyone out there who I know cares as much as I do about the animals, thank you, Olive and Tammy. I know we can’t save them all, but, as the saying goes, you saved this one, and I know I am not alone in telling you how much that means to so many of us.
Is there something ironic about honoring our veterans one week after people failed to take advantage of one of the greatest things they’ve defended for us?
I speak of voter turnout last week. The New York Times reported the worst voter turnout in 72 years. I find this amazing because we’ve made it ridiculously easy to vote, so much so that I suspect we’re moments away from casting our votes via a device called iVote. I’m sure Apple’s working on it right now.
I don’t criticize the low voter turnout because I’m appalled at the results – although I am; I criticize because we talk about honoring veterans and it seems we truly don’t know what that means anymore.
Honoring the men and women who were willing to lay down their lives for our freedom – for our right to elect our own leaders, run our own government, or, if the system isn’t working, change it completely – has become little more than a marketing gimmick.
Let me ask you: When’s the last time you thanked a veteran? Veterans Day has passed, and while we do a bang-up job of saluting and honoring our veterans a few times a year, how many of you have told a veteran “thank you” on any non-holiday?
While (hopefully) many, if not most of you, know what I mean, let me explain for the few of you who may not. I, like many Americans, find it appropriate and necessary to thank men and women who have served our country. I do not always agree on why we send people to fight, but I do agree that being willing to defend our country is something worthy of gratitude. When I see someone who is wearing something, be it a uniform or a ball cap, that indicates he or she has served, I make a point of approaching them and saying, “Thank you for your service.”
I thought everyone did this. I was wrong. A few years ago I was at an American Legion ceremony when I saw a colleague and her husband. Her husband had fought in the Middle East, something I discovered that day in conversation. I told him “thank you” and he thanked me.
“Why is she thanking you?” his wife asked him. I looked at her and she truly looked puzzled.
“Because he served our country,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, and then giggled and turned to her husband. “People thank you for that?”
“I take it this doesn’t happen much,” I said, and he shook his head and said no.
I was shocked, because I assumed as a veteran’s wife she understood the sacrifices he made and why people would approach him to say thank you. Even more so, I was mortified that this was apparently the first time anyone had ever thanked him in her presence.
In a way, though, this represents how we all have failed our veterans. Yes, she should have known, but honestly? I don’t think she’s an anomaly. We throw plenty of parades and yes, we certainly go crazy when we think someone is disrespecting our troops (do a Google search for “President George W. saluting while holding his dog” or “President Obama holding a cup of coffee”, and you’ll see what I mean), but what we don’t do is think about what these men and women were defending.
Here’s a hint: It’s our right to listen to the Tea Party Republicans, or the real Republicans. It’s our right to listen to NPR or believe in Krishna, Jesus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s your right publish a newspaper without government interference, and also your right to express your opinion and not go to jail. It’s our right to elect our own leadership.
I don’t believe parades are enough to repay the men and women who deliver those rights. A day off so you can go to the beach and grill hot dogs isn’t exactly what I’m thinking, either, just as I don’t believe putting 50 flags in front of your business honors anyone.
If you want to honor the men and women who serve, here’s what you do. One: When you see someone who has served, say thank you. You needn’t wait for a holiday or a parade. Two: Raise an American flag – one –, and do it right. If you don’t know how, visit USHistory.org/flag. Three: Vote. People died for our right to do that, too, and every time you don’t vote, it’s an insult to any man or woman who has laid down their life for us.
No soldier wants to go to war. They do it for love of country, because they believe in America. I love my country, too, but I never considered enlisting. That’s the difference between me and the men and women who served: I doubt they wanted to go overseas and fight Germans or Communists or Iraqis or Al-Qaeda. The difference is, they went and I didn’t.
That is worth my gratitude, not just on holidays, but every day – especially on Election Day.
Since I have no aspirations for public office, I don’t mind telling you: I got high in college. And, well, for a few years after college. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations on that has expired, but if not, could someone come bail me out? Or is it just a misdemeanor? I honestly don’t know what the law says anymore, because I actually haven’t had any pot in a long time.
And I don’t miss it. It wasn’t my thing. I come from a family of addicts, but our drugs of choice are alcohol, food and controversy. I think we can all guess, with some degree of accuracy, where I get my fix. But, being a college student, I did my duty, and yeah, it was OK. I mean, for me, it was never anything great. If it was there, woo-hoo. If it wasn’t, well, I didn’t really notice. I had friends who would drop acid, which, honestly, terrified me, so I just kind of hung out in my dorm room or with my theatre friends, drank Michelob Dry, and occasionally would take a toke off a joint. That’s about as far as it went for me and, really, as far as it went for most of us. We weren’t users. Cocaine? Pfft, what was this, 1986? Opium? What were we, Romantic poets? Heroin? What was I, stupid? No, pot as far as that train went. I never even considered anything other than weed.
That’s the thing about getting high: It does NOT make you want to go out get more drugs. It does not make you want to go out and party. It makes you want to call a friend and ask them to bring you Hot Pockets. Clearly, I’m not speaking for everyone who’s tried it, but I think I’m speaking for a lot of us. And even if you are one of those folks who does get high and get geared up, odds are smoking a joint has never tempted you to snort a line of coke.
Which is why I don’t see a problem with voting yes on Amendment Two, which would decriminalize medical marijuana. If it can help a cancer patient, or someone with glaucoma, or an AIDS patient, why are we making it a crime to do so?
We need to legalize weed as quickly as we can, but not just for medicinal reasons. Compared to many other drugs, pot is the healthy choice. Seriously. It’s a plant. For someone who still makes sure her tuna fish doesn’t kill dolphins, eats grass-fed beef whenever she can, and will not tolerate milk from cows treated with the bovine growth hormone, it shouldn’t shock you that I found marijuana the safest option with which to experiment in college. It was practically a vegetable, after all. But by keeping it illegal, we’re forcing people away from a plant and into synthetics. Many legal and legal-ish marijuana alternatives out there scare me, and because people who don’t know better think these synthetics are safe, we are seeing medical issues arise that we never saw when kids smoked grass. Spice, which is a name that covers a multitude of fake types of pot, has “designer” ingredients that, one by one, lawmakers make illegal to save us from ourselves, but as they do, the companies making the stuff just change the ingredients to something else so that the newest version remains mostly legal.
Spice can stop blood from flowing to your heart, cause hallucinations, and the occasional heart attack. That’s because the synthetics Spice makers use to mimic cannabis bind to the same receptors in your cells as real pot does, only with unpredictable reactions.
Look, Amendment Two is clearly the first step. It’s only for medicinal purposes and doesn’t go far enough, but it’s a step nonetheless. Our society will always find ways to recreate with mind-altering substances, and this would be a huge source of revenue for government. It would also offer a safe alternative to all the quasi-legal Spicy alternatives. Less death and more money for government? Don’t mind if I do. And if you disagree? Don’t buy the stuff. Using marijuana is a victimless crime. Let us keep your taxes low by taxing those who wish to indulge.
Plus – and this is just me, perhaps – in a world simultaneously seeking vices and safe food, doesn’t organic pot just make sense? I mean, come on, it hits all the high notes: It’s gluten free, it does not contain nuts, and if the government regulates it, the USDA can certify some of it 100% organic, which means a dime bag will cost… well, quite a bit more.
And, most assuredly, it will be dolphin-safe.